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LI farms brace for the worst of hurricane

A Martha Clara summer vineyard walk in 2010.

A Martha Clara summer vineyard walk in 2010.

As Hurricane Irene inches closer to New York, the Long Island farm community is bracing for the worst.

Irene may prove devastating to the agricultural sector if the predicted 10 inches of rain and winds of more than 74 mph hits Long Island, local farmers said. The rain and wind will affect all crops -- everything from fruits and vegetables to flowers and trees grown at greenhouses -- and may be a source of serious economic consequences for Long Island farms, said Frank Beyrodt, president of the Long Island Farm Bureau.

Another problem for the industry could be the possible ramifications on the area's wine industry -- mainly located on the East End, where areas are more susceptible to flooding and there is little buffer from strong winds. The Island's wine industry brings in up to $150 million in annual revenue, according to the Long Island Wine Council.

"Suffolk is the number-one county in the state of New York as far as gross revenue from agriculture products, and in the prime of season . . . this could be devastating to the economy out here," Beyrodt said.

Agricultural products from Long Island are valued at around $332 million, according to the state Department of Agriculture. There are about 585 farms in Suffolk and nearly 60 in Nassau County.

In addition, damages to farm buildings and equipment could also be a source of monetary stress, said Joe Gergela, executive director of the Farm Bureau.

Wind and rain are expected to do equally destructive damage to crops. Farmers were concerned about cornfields and vineyards being blown over, and the wind bringing in salt from the ocean -- which could be harmful to crops. For rain, flooding is a major worry as it could drown crops and cause produce grown close to the ground to rot underwater, farmers said.

Seasonal crops such as corn and tomatoes could suffer the most damage, Gergela said. Pumpkins may also suffer, he added.

For vineyards, the grapes are still firm before the mid-September harvesting season, so that could alleviate possible damage from heavy rain, said Rich Pisacano, owner of Roanoke Vineyards in Riverhead.

Friday afternoon, most farmers and vineyard owners were out storing their equipment and doing last-minute harvesting. Many acknowledged that there wasn't much they could do to protect their crops in the field that weren't yet harvestable.

"Tomorrow morning I'll pick whatever's left that's good, and hopefully it'll last a few days," said Bob Nolan, owner of Deer Run Farms, which specializes in growing lettuce, spinach and cabbage, in Brookhaven.

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